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Australia's Christmas Beetles Are Slowly Disappearing

Australia's holiday period has always been marked by the fragrant scents of pine trees and mangoes, outdoor barbeques and swarms of Christmas beetles.

The total number of Christmas beetles -- named for their festive appearance and seasonal arrival --  has declined in the past 30 years, as grassy woodland areas surrounding our cities is used for housing.

Evidence shows a decline in numbers of the brightly-coloured scarabs in metropolitan areas due to their former habitats becoming "brick, concrete and tarmac jungles", according to the Australian Museum.

For example, "the Cumberland Plain woodland was once widespread in Western Sydney, but less than 10 percent remains," entomologist Chris Reid said.

Raised in regional NSW, Kristy Everett, 26, told 10 daily she remembered "growing up and hearing dozens of Christmas beetles hitting the fly screen door at night".

Various species of Christmas beetle. Image: Abram Powell, Australian Museum

"As a kid, my friends and I would collect them. Now I can't even remember the last time I saw a Christmas beetle and it does make me worry about the number of insects becoming extinct at such a rapid rate."

There are about 35 species of Christmas beetles and almost all are unique to the southern and eastern parts of Australia. Most emerge between mid-November and late December, when the larvae hatches.

According to Reid, telling them apart can prove difficult and to do so, entomologists usually examine the hairs on their 'bums' or posteriors.

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Adult beetles can occur in large numbers, sometimes completely defoliating trees. Around 100 years ago, they reportedly drowned in huge numbers in Sydney Harbour, with tree branches bending into the water under their combined weight.

With eastern seaboard cities like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne experiencing a combined population growth of 65 percent according to the 2016 Census, the decline in Christmas beetles is set to continue.

Insect populations have been declining worldwide and entomologist Dr. Tanya Latty told the ABC last year this was "catastrophic".

"They underpin many of our ecosystems, they are food for bigger things, they clean up the waste, they're the pollinators, predators that keep pest populations under control," Latty said.